HEALTH MATTERS: Chronic, excessive drinking may be associated with a variety of health problemsQ. A recent article in the Grand Forks Herald talked about the chronic health risks of drinking. What are those risks?
By: Dr. Joshua Wynne, Grand Forks Herald
Q. A recent article in the Grand Forks Herald talked about the chronic health risks of drinking. What are those risks?
A. We’re all aware of the acute effects of alcohol: impairment of judgment, difficulty with motor activities, slurred speech, and, in really excessive amounts, sedation and even death.
But much more insidious and concerning are the chronic effects of prolonged excessive alcohol intake. Usually defined as more than one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men, excessive drinking may be associated with a variety of health problems if the drinking continues for a long enough time.
Nervous system problems may be seen, including memory loss, convulsions and impaired sensation in the feet and legs. Heart problems are common too, including heart failure, impaired pumping action of the heart, extra heart beats, heart attacks and high blood pressure. A spectrum of intestinal problems also can occur, including cancers, irritation of the intestinal tract, scarring of the liver (cirrhosis), inflammation of the pancreas and internal bleeding.
Now, these problems typically occur only with prolonged and excessive drinking, so you needn’t worry about an occasional glass of wine. But, we as a society need to realize that excessive drinking accounts for a significant amount of disability and preventable deaths, just as do cigarette smoking, poorly controlled blood pressure and obesity.
Preventable deaths are those that would otherwise be avoided if people led healthier lifestyles. Have your occasional beer, glass of wine, or drink, but moderation is the key. And of course, don’t drink and drive.
Q. I’m healthy and work out frequently. Should I see my family medicine doctor for a routine check-up?
A. Yes. Following up on the first question, there are some conditions that are best addressed before they become chronic — and more serious — problems. Good examples are high blood pressure, high cholesterol and detectable early cancers of the breast, colon, cervix and prostate.
Treating these conditions can delay or prevent more problems later, but only if they are discovered early. We recommend routine and periodic screening for these and other conditions, including screening the pressure in the eyes to look for evidence of glaucoma, even in otherwise healthy adults.
On the other hand, we no longer recommend an annual head-to-foot routine physical examination for healthy adults as we once did. In the past, that was a routine practice, but we now know that a more focused examination of specific areas is all that is ordinarily needed because we know that the benefit of such an evaluation can be substantial. Please do get those preventive exams recommended by your health care provider.
Wynne is vice president for health affairs at UND, dean of the School of Medicine and Health Sciences, and a professor of medicine. He is a cardiologist by training.
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